Divorce is a complicated matter for any couple. But it is even more challenging when couples over 50 decide to go through a so-called gray divorce.
What Is a Gray Divorce?
The decision to divorce, at any age, is never an easy one; but the challenges of divorcing after years of marriage can be incredibly overwhelming. Gray divorce, or divorce at ages 50 and over, is becoming increasingly common as people live longer than ever before.
Gray divorces can present a unique set of legal and emotional considerations for couples who have been together for decades. Adult children of divorcing parents often worry about their parent’s financial stability, inheritance, and if they will still have a close relationship with both parents. The effects of the gray divorce phenomenon extend beyond just the couple who is separating.
The decision to end a long-term marriage can have a lasting impact on one or both parents’ retirement benefits, health insurance premiums, and standard of living.
That’s why you should consider consulting a divorce professional if you are contemplating divorce later in life. Although every case is unique, a skilled divorce attorney will know how to anticipate certain gray divorce issues.
Why Are Gray Divorces Increasing?
While the overall divorce rate has fallen in recent years, gray divorces are trending up. There are many reasons behind the gray divorce phenomenon.
Though among the highest globally, the divorce rate in the United States has been declining since the 1980s. But couples over the age of 50 have defied this trend. The occurrence of “gray divorce” in the U.S. has more than doubled between 1990 and 2019. For individuals aged 65 and older, it has roughly tripled during the same period, according to a paper written by two sociologists at Bowling Green State University.
Additionally, a report released by the U.S. Census Department in April 2021 confirmed that 34.9% of all Americans who divorced in 2020 were 55 or older. Some researchers even think that considering the large size of the Baby Boomer generation, which includes individuals ranging in age from 59 to 77, divorce rates will continue to climb.
Most gray divorces are initiated by women, likely because they are increasingly more financially independent and have more control over their lives than ever before. Since they don’t have to rely so much on their spouses for financial support, women may no longer feel the need to stay in an unhappy marriage.
Moreover, couples who have been married for a long time may find that their values and goals no longer align, leading them to seek a divorce. Other factors, such as increased life expectancy, changes in social norms, and improved access to divorce services, can also contribute to the rise in gray divorces.
Complexities Involving Late-Life Divorce
Gray divorces differ from divorces between younger couples, not just because of the age gap. The legal process can be more complicated in gray divorces, especially when it comes to dividing assets and spousal support.
Due to the older age and length of the marriage, gray divorces often involve higher assets than divorces between younger couples. This is because couples who have been together for a longer period tend to accumulate more, including retirement accounts, homes, and investments.
That makes the process of property division and asset distribution more complex. Moreover, older adults may have fewer opportunities to rebuild their financial lives. On the other hand, unlike younger couples, older adults are not usually maneuvering custody provisions.
In addition, older couples may have health issues that must be considered during the divorce settlement process. This can be particularly troublesome as one spouse may no longer be eligible for medical coverage under their former spouse’s plan.
Gray Divorce and Asset Division
If it’s been decades since your marriage began, you and your spouse probably have significant assets, including both marital and pre-marital assets. In the divorce process, all that marital property has to be divided. While marital assets are divided, pre-marital assets or separate property stays with its owner.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, marital property is distributed equitably. However, equitable means fair, not that the property will be split equally. Since couples who have been married longer have more marital assets than couples who have been married for a shorter time, asset division can be much more difficult and time-consuming. Moreover, after a long marriage, it can become difficult to define which is marital property and what was acquired before the marriage.
A family law judge will consider different factors to achieve an equitable distribution of property. For example, the grounds for divorce, the health and age of each spouse, as well as the length of the marriage can be considered. The ways each spouse contributed to the marriage can also be taken into consideration in asset distribution.
Consulting divorce lawyers to help appraise all assets and put together a settlement strategy can be a good idea, especially because other financial difficulties may occur. For example, in some circumstances, one spouse can be entitled to the Social Security benefits of the other spouse. However, the spouse who is not employed and has health insurance benefits provided by their former partner may lose them after divorce.
How Can We Help?
When individuals born in the late 1950s through early 1960s were growing up, they were taught that happiness matters and that there is nothing to be ashamed of about divorce. That probably contributed to the gray divorce revolution. Divorces at any age are destabilizing, but the effects of a late-life divorce can be especially exacerbated.
Navigating the issues that come with a gray divorce can be complex and challenging, so it’s essential to work with someone who can provide guidance on the various implications of the divorce and help you make informed decisions.
Anyone preparing for a gray divorce in Virginia should consider discussing their legal rights and financial needs with an attorney before the divorce process begins. Clients can trust the attorneys at Ashwell & Ashwell, PLLC, to fight for their rights and protect their interests.